There Are Worse Prisons Than Words

Contains spoilers

When I finished The Book Thief for the first time, I swore to myself that I would never find a book like it in all my life. I don’t know what I expected, because I did not stop reading and people did not stop writing, and it so happens that I have found another Book Thief.

I got The Shadow of the Wind from a friend. It follows the story of Daniel, a boy who stumbles across a book which also happens to be called The Shadow of the Wind. The book is by a mysterious and now apparently defunct author, Julian Carax, and is the last copy in print. Just to add to the ambiguity, a sinister and faceless character is known to devote his life to burning copies of Carax’s work. After becoming enthralled with the book, Daniel finds himself on a harrowing quest to find out what happened to Julian Carax, and is soon tangled up in the poignant stories of the people who Carax left behind.

As it always is with truly good books, that brief summary does not in any way do it justice.

I have never read a book before where the stories of two sets of characters are so closely and cleverly intertwined. The life of Daniel and the life of Julian appear to have come from the same set of blueprints – and as i observed Daniel’s slow discovery of what Julian has lost, the ending of the book and Daniel’s fate loomed with more and more dread. Carlos Ruiz Zafon made the reader believe that Daniel was Julian, right up until the very end – at which point Daniel is shown to save what Julian was always condemned to lose.

This was a clever, harrowing and at times terrifying book, but more so it was a poignant one. I have always thought of literature as being a constant, a permanent. Part of the reason why I write is to add substance to memories or feelings that I don’t believe will be around forever. The thought of a writer being so horrified with the place that writing has lead him to that he would be willing to devote his life to burning his work is one which really held resonance with me. What I loved most of all was that fire was presented as the metaphor for hatred. Julian is burnt in the fire and physically scarred – an accurate representation of how hatred has destroyed the person he used to be. And that beautiful moment when Daniel walks into the mansion to find Bea, and she addresses him as Julian. Because what is Daniel if he isn’t the Julian who never needed to write?

This book might not count as a classic piece of literature. I doubt this jumbled set of paragraphs even counts as a review, as I am forever plagued with an inability to write critically about books which I adore. But I am going to post it anyway in my Classic Lit tag, because I think that The Shadow of the Wind deserves to be there.

shadowofthewind

So, I Finally Read Fifty Shades of Grey

by Rebekka Roderick

Meh. That about sums it up. This is mainstream smut, erotica, and really nothing more. Hardly a ‘book’ itself.

I’ve questioned the author’s writing skill and if her publishers decision to publish a book that began as fan fiction was wise or not. Was the book badly written? No, but it was rough. E.L James is not a bad writer. She has bad habits that could have been fixed with a good editor.

The first page was probably the worst page in the whole book. Never EVER start a book with a character staring in a mirror brushing her hair. Why? It’s fucking boring. And it’s a poor way to describe their appearance. It’s called telling not showing. The book is written in first person. Ana is telling the story. Ask yourself this: how often do you focus on your own appearance in your head and think to yourself “Oh, my shoulder length brown hair is being uncontrollable!” You don’t. This is something I’ve learnt in writing. Yes, describe your character’s physical appearance. But ask yourself this: one is it really important to the story and two how can you do it in a way that doesn’t come across as boring and cliched?

James repeats a lot of words and phrases throughout the book. This is an easy thing to slip into when you’re writing. Writing is hard and despite what some stupid TV programs might say, not everyone can “do it” like there’s no skilled involved. When you write a 300 page novel you will repeat certain phrases and sentences. You will probably not even be aware that you are doing it. A good writer will go back in edits and notice these mistakes and delete them. James did not and all of those “Holy craps!” and “Inner goddess” moments got really, really tiresome.

The plot. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with a thinner plot before and I read Mary Janice Davidson’s “Undead” series. The “plot” of the book is Christian Grey tries to convince Ana to sign a contract allowing him to engage in rough sex. That’s it. In between the pages and pages of fucking he slowly takes over her life and this is what i found most disturbing: started to frighten her. Christian Grey reminds me of a guy that was fucked over by a once-loyal girlfriend that turned into a raging lying, cheating slut, and he’s turned into a power freak from the effects of what she did to him.

Yes, that’s right, Grey is so controlling, his temper so thin, that in several scenes Ana is actually afraid to be around him and is brought to tears a couple of times. He doesn’t just like rough sex, he wants to control her entire life and beat her when she displeases him not for sexual pleasure but to make him feel good as a control freak.

This was the biggest problem I had with the book. People are calling this a romance. Fear should not be in a romance novel. You should not FEAR the man in your life. You should not have to ask him NOT TO BEAT YOU.

This book has outsold all 7 of the Harry Potter novels. On one hand I want to go “Hooray! People are reading! This is good for erotica!” (I love erotica, but I prefer Literotica, Lush Stories or XNXX, honestly), but mostly I just want to sigh, shake my head and throw the book away.

This book is not worthy of the height of fame it has achieved. It is not terribly written but it is not great either. JK Rowling’s books were a master piece and deserved every penny they earned. E.L James has been lucky. Her book still reads like a piece of fan fiction. A good piece of fan fiction…yes…but still fan fiction. It is popular for one reason only: that it began as Twilight fan fiction.

It is a freak show. People are buying this book not because it is well written but because it has become so popular and they want to see what it is all about. In twenty years time what books do you think I’ll still have in my bookcase? Harry Potter or…this?

For the whole factor of the BDSM thing is a damn joke. That is NOT BDSM at all. It’s just a little kink in the bedroom!!!!

For the fact its three books is a joke, because this is all written in the mere matter of months, and all this happened is stupid. You meet a boy, you like a boy, you submit to boy, top the boy, kick the bdsm out all together, break up, get back together, fight, ignore each other, car chases, kidnappings, attempted (unspeakable), crazy exes, overly rich man, blue collar girl, let’s not forget she’s a virgin, of course. The sex isn’t bad, but the odds of a couple orgasming together every single time together at the same time, is impossible. Everything was Oh my, Oh god. That was also a bit dumb. And very comical.

A poem I wrote for you

I name dropped the title
Of a book that google told me about
In a poem without even knowing
How it ended.

That book is at your place now.

I tried to read you, to learn you,
Before writing you into a poem,
But my magpie eyes couldn’t resist
The gleam of a new name

A blank page

I wrote a while ago that the
Crevices of your jumper
Smell like hope; that
Sometimes I wonder.

Well nowadays I wonder a lot more.

And so here you go, in the hope
That history will repeat itself,
With the faith that I can
Come back to you later,
Understand you as more
Than just a gleam in the rust
With a pair of kind eyes.
Maybe.

To Kindle or Not to Kindle?

It’s a fairly innocuous object, the Kindle – flat, grey and quiet. It doesn’t scream division. But it’s deceptive.

I’m an oldfashioned kind of book addict. I love the hush of a good bookshop or library. Some find piles of books messy, but to me they’re comforting. As a child, I went to bed with a book rather than a teddy bear. The closed covers of a book contain the escape of story, for me; a deeply familiar excitement every time.

So the Kindle in all its plastic electronic gimmickry is wrong on so many levels. How can such a dead object ever think to replace the texture of printed paper under your hands? How can a brand name dream of ousting an elegant hardback? A book is innately physical. It has a weight, a presence in your bag or by your bed. A Kindle is a book crushed flat with its beauty made hollow.

And yet, as a booklover, I should only be pleased that the Kindle is renewing interest in reading and taking novels to a wider audience. Many who wouldn’t usually read are enticed by the idea of an easily accessible tablet, similar to an iPad. You can fit a million books onto a Kindle, whereas an actual real book will push your holiday luggage entitlement way over the allowance. There is now a Kindle family, according to Amazon. Imagine: an extended family as a byproduct of an expensive gadget. Grandma will be delighted. She’ll be even more excited about the fact that she can read ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ in public with anonymous pleasure.

But at what price do these glories come? Isn’t a story cheapened by its vehicle? Jane Eyre’s longing for Rochester loses its romance once it’s computerised. Atticus’ honour lacks depth on a tablet. And, worst of all, the race to Poirot’s revelation loses its excitement when there’s no pages to turn. If the Kindle juggernaut continues pace and a book eventually becomes an anachronism, a thousand libraries will lie in ruins and Waterstones will atrophy with dust.

Maybe I’m overreacting?

What do you think?

Empathy Continued

‘You never really understand a person until . . . you climb into his skin and walk around in it.’ Harper Lee

Empathy is an almost forgotten art. I call it art because it’s a skill, and any skill performed well can become art. It’s a skill because it takes practice, and sensitivity, and thought, and instinct.

It’s almost forgotten because so few people practice it. It’s rare to hear someone take the time to say, ‘Well, let’s think about it from their point of view.’ It’s rare to hear anyone try and rationalise what their opponent or peer is thinking, or what motives lie behind their behaviour.

It’s hard to do. We all have a certain appearance on the outside, but we’re trapped inside our own minds, and obsessed with our own experience. Events around us, people’s behaviour and things that are said come to us through a thick filter, arriving at a wholly self-centred ego which interprets everything through its own needs. It’s hard to forcibly step outside of that, and to make our minds imagine the thought patterns of others. Even more difficult is the process of feeling as others feel – putting aside our own ME ME ME experience for a moment, and climbing into another person’s skin.

Literature is one vehicle by which we access empathy. A story takes us away from ourselves, and allows us to look into someone else’s experience. It’s easier when it’s done for us – when a writer takes us by the hand, and shows us how that someone else feels. Atticus teaches Finch about empathy, and by doing so Harper Lee teaches us, too.

It frightens me that To Kill A Mockingbird was published in 1960, and today, in 2013, fifty-three years later, we still have a lot to learn about empathy. One novel certainly doesn’t change the world, of course; but we understand the universal truth Lee spoke. We understood it then, and we understand it now. Believing in the power of empathy or optimism is often seen as naive, but cynicism is dangerous.